Nirmalya Sinha : After the disappointment of losing the National Football League Title to the arch rivals by just a solitary point in the previous season, the Green and Maroon Brigade had one of the most successful seasons in their history in the year 2001-02, winning five Trophies in the process.
The squad almost remained unchanged from the 2000-01 season with the charismatic legendary coach Subrata Bhattacharjee at the helm. Sammi Omolo was released and was replaced by Striker Abdul Latif Seriki and Rishi Kapoor and Uday Konar bolstered the Indian contingent. Debjit Ghosh led the squad for the season which started with winning the Calcutta Football League after a gap of four years. Mohun Bagan won the league comfortably which included victories against Mohameddan Sporting (2-0) and East Bengal (1-0).
The National Football League (NFL) was scheduled to start from 12th December, 2001. The Mariners were having an outstanding season winning their 11th Federation Cup defeating Dempo Sports Club in the finals and also adding Bordolui Cup and Sikkim Governor’s Gold Cup to their kitty.
The Mariners started their National League campaign as one of the hot favorites on 13thDecember, 2001 defeating Tollygunje Agragami 2-0 with goals from Seriki and James Singh. The second match was the Kolkata Derby to be held on 16th December, 2001. In a high voltage match, a brilliant side volley from the Green and Maroon heart throb Jose Ramirez Barreto was the decider. This goal is considered as one of the best goals to be scored in the Kolkata Derby.
The marathon league with its customary ups and downs slowly turned into a two horse race between the Goan giants Churchill Brothers and the National Club Of India. On 24th Jan, 2002, the two title contenders locked horns at Salt Lake Stadium. In a grueling match, Mariners reigned supreme via a Barreto brace defeating Churchill 2-1. This game is fondly remembered by the Green and Maroon faithful for the world class second goal that their SobujTota scored. Many maidan veterans considered it as one of the best if not the best goal scored at the Salt Lake Stadium.
After a few mixed results, it was again the turn of the arch rivals to fight it out in the return leg of the Kolkata Derby on 11.03.2002. Barreto stole the lime light once again as his brilliant header beating his marker Jackson from a R.P.Singh cross from the right wing bulged the red and Gold net sending the Mariners into a frenzy.
After few more rounds of riveting action that included a shocking 4-3 defeat to Salgaocar after going 3-0 up at Goa, the last lap arrived .The last match was to be played on 15th April, 2002, the day of Noboborsho (Bengali New Year). Churchill Brothers needed to draw the match at their Home Ground at Margao while for the Kolkata giants it was a must win affair.
The club tent was crowded with supporters from the morning who had gathered in numbers for the traditional Bar Pujo on the New Year’s day. The atmosphere was tense. A conundrum of hope and anxiety engulfed the Green and Maroon faithful.
Finally the kickoff arrived. In today’s age of phone apps and online streaming one cannot imagine the unbearable feeling of the championship match not being telecast. With beating hearts and sweaty palms, the crowd waited anxiously. Repeated phone calls were made to those who were in Goa.
The deadlock was not broken at half time. Pressure started to mount and supporters got restless. The fear of missing the title by a whisker alike last season started to slowly creep in.
In the 73rd minute, from a Basudev Mondol corner, Abdul Saliu, the seldom used foreigner of MohunBagan, rose the highest to meet the ball and put it into the back of the net breaking his nose and Churchill hearts in the process.
The news of their beloved team taking the lead came to Gostho Pal Sarani which resulted in jubilant scenes. The crowd started celebrating but waited eagerly for the final whistle. After 15 minutes it was over. Mohun Bagan once again became the Champions of India. They were at the pinnacle of Indian football with 5 trophies in a single season. The setting maroon sun was covered with green abir as the Mariners celebrated their third National League title.
– By Nirmalya Sinha ( A proud mariner)